Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why Did The Cows Cross The Road?

Had a flying visit to London last week on business and found time to get down to Stash Yarns in Putney as a treat. Been meaning to visit this little treasure house for ages, mostly because its website shows that it stocks a whole lot of rare and unusual yarns that aren't normally found at ALL this side of the Atlantic. Dream in Color Smooshy, Shibui, Koigu - and those heartstopping names that make you forget everything else and head right there - Fleece Artist and Handmaiden. With temptations like that, what chance did business meetings have?

Here is a tempting glimpse of just one corner

and here is owner, Michelle (originally from Connecticut), showing me even more temptations. This picture is a little blurred because I hadn't taken my camera to London, in the interests of travelling light, and have borrowed this from Michelle's blog. Indeed, if she hadn't been kind enough to send me on that top picture of her shop, you wouldn't have had one at all, so thanks, Michelle!

But I was able to take pictures of the little luxuries I acquired, once I got home.

Stash from Stash Yarns, indeed. Two skeins of utterly irresistible Shibui sock yarn, in the Seaweed colourway, and two skeins of Koigu ditto, in a rich poppy red. I also picked up the Twisted Sisters Sweater book, which has that wonderful top-down Aran in it. Pretty restrained I know (had to turn away from the Seasilk in case my resolve weakened) but the determination to restrict stash enhancement stayed fairly well in place. Sock yarn doesn't count, right?

While enjoying a leisurely browse at Stash (with the mobile phone turned off in case anyone tried to find me) I chatted with Ali, who works there a couple of days a week. She is a pretty nifty knitter - she was working that morning on a pair of entrelac socks and assured me that they were really quite easy to do. Looked wonderfully complicated to me! Go and check out her blog to see them, and also for the most delightful account of a slumberknit party which I wish I had been at.

Places like Stash Yarns are so worth visiting. If it were not for them, those of us on this side of the herring pond would never get a chance to fondle divine yarns like these, up close and personal. Any of you visiting London in the next while, make a point of popping in and saying hallo - as well as drooling over the Adirondack and the Smooshy and the Lornas Laces and the Mission Falls and the Blue Sky... who would have thought that one small shop would have such rarities in it? (OK, New World dwellers, you might have them on your doorstep, but for a UK shop to order and stock them is pretty unusual, I can tell you. I don't know a single other place I could find these without making a long distance flight.) I'm certainly going back when I'm in London again for IKnit in September.

Oh I almost forgot. More goodies for UK and western European knitters. Ali reminded me about The Inside Loop , a new UK online knitting magazine. Issue 2 is out today, so go look at it.

Goodies arrived by post recently. I'd been waiting absolutely ages for books from the Needle Arts Bookshop and at last they arrived. Not the shop's fault in any way - since they were heavy, I'd opted for camel train and slow boat via China rather than priority posting, so I was fortunate to receive them in slightly less than the anticipated six weeks.

Doesn't Marsha at Needle Arts make up the most beautiful packages? Lovingly wrapped, beribboned, and with a bookmark and bookplates tucked in as extra gifts. And do you see that poem, The Prayse Of The Needle, printed on the back of the invoice? A pleasure to do business with someone like that.

Here's one of the books I got from Needle Arts - the Japanese publication 1000 Stitches. This tome contains every pattern you could ever possibly want, and quite a few you wouldn't have believed possible. Easy to work out too, with plenty of charts. I think Marsha offers a free translating leaflet on her website as well, if I'm not mistaken, that you can print out and refer to as necessary. I've joined the Japanese knitting group on Ravelry, which is very helpful for anyone working from the beautiful books they produce over there.

I also got two of Annie Maloney's books from Needle Arts, the cable one and the lace one. Looking forward to trying some ideas from those as well.

You may remember that we have been leaving the back gardens strictly alone for the past few weeks, because of nesting birds. This led to the front driveway being festooned with not only drying handknit socks but also drying hand-dyed yarn skeins. These are the ones currently listed on eBay - that listing ends tonight, as far as I remember, so I'll have to start on a new lot.

I confess that I rather like having colourful skeins blowing in the breeze as I drive in or out, but when it comes to getting sheets and other laundry dried, the airing racks in the utility room do not give at all the same fresh clean scent that outdoor drying does.

And so I was heartily relieved to discover that at last the blackbird nesting right by the back door (so close that to open the door meant shaking the nest) was feeding well-grown young.

There was still the mistle thrush to consider, though. She nested very late this year (normally their young are up and active before ever a blackbird starts building) and she took her own sweet time hatching them too. 'Get on with it!' I was shouting exasperatedly through the window as she sat peacefully gazing into space, day after day, week after week, in the tree that supports the washing line. But at last ...

Once the young have hatched, you could hold a garden party underneath the nest and the parents won't desert. It's only in the earlier stages that it's unwise to hang around too much.

Yay, at last we can mow the lawn, tidy up the flowerbeds, get into the conservatory again to rescue the neglected pot plants!

Or so I thought. Coming downstairs in the morning, I glanced through the hall window into the conservatory and saw that we had yet another squatter...

That isn't a particularly huge blue pot. But that is a very very small bunny. For heaven's sake, am I to be barred yet again? If you frighten them too much at that age, you see, as, for example by rushing in shrieking, 'What the blue b-z-s are you doing there, get OUT!', they just up and die on you, from shock. Or spite. Didn't want that on my conscience. Fortunately, although it hid behind some sacks when I went in first, it took my gentle preliminary disturbance as the notice to quit that I intended it to be, and left later on. Let's hope we have a critter-free garden for a while. Until I can water the poor neglected greenhouse plants at least!

When I headed off to Bandon this morning though, somehow I wasn't surprised when all the traffic on a narrow twisting country lane came to an abrupt stop.

I suppose I wouldn't really want to live somewhere that didn't have these little interruptions to a smooth and uneventful existence.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cretan Shepherds, Sundried Socks, And Knitting Missions

OK, OK already! For all those of you who demanded it in no uncertain terms, here is that Cretan shepherd, up close and personal.

He may look as though he's posing for a statue of The Discus Thrower but, he's actually pegging stones at his flock which had just turned sideways into someone's nice green vineyard. Fair bit of muscle power there, wouldn't you say?

Gosh it's been a frantic week and socks are responsible for most of that. Honestly, don't you sometimes wonder what you did before knitting and the Net met up?

The dip-dye socks from Round 4 of Sock Madness (Something's Shady) were finally finished.

Maple Leaf Rag Socks.

These were the ones where you worked an afterthought heel - well, afterwards! It's a very entertaining variation and very easy to do, but it did cause a rather hard line where heel met body, in too much contrast to the rest of the sock which is in graduating colours, so a little more handpainting was needed to blur the distinction. Pretty pleased with them. Will certainly try the dip-dye technique again on finished socks as opposed to pre-dyeing the yarn.

Photographing the Maple Leaf Rags meant removing the Leafy Green socks I was wearing. Muffy the Yarnslayer thought the patterning on those was very nice indeed -

- and was somewhat disinclined to let them out of her paws when I wanted to put them back on.

NO! MY socks! ME to wear. ME to take to my bed and sleep on!

The Sock Madness round were coming thick and fast upon each other by now, as the fastest knitters in each division competed to see who could finish almost before the latest pattern had even been downloaded by the rest of us.

These are Technoknitter's Eyelet and Lattice Cable, worked here in Fleece Artist merino sock yarn in the Jester colourway. Lovely detail in the pattern, not the fastest to work certainly, but hugely rewarding.

But they hadn't got any further than the picture shows when Mt Mom's Godmother Socks were released, and I just had to rush off and work on those:

The yarn is Opal Royal, which has a hint of silver Lurex in it. Mt. Mom certainly deserves the prize for clear helpful patterns. She thinks of every little problem or query you might have, and addresses it before you've even thought of it. Forethought Patterning perhaps? It's a nice easy rib stitch up to the cuff , and you then work a spectacular lace edging. My plan is to take these to knee length when the cuff can fall gracefully over boot tops. Not a short project but exciting.

At this rate every circular in the house will be in use. That didn't stop me though from casting on for a new project - a jacket in Noro Kureyon. I had started one of these a few months back but didn't like the pattern or what it was doing to the yarn, so frogged and went back to the Noro book stash for a better one.

The design here calls for bands of horizontal moss stitch to alternate with the upwards knit. Here you see the back with the top strip of sideways moss stitch ready to be grafted on. At least it keeps things interesting.

Was well pleased that the very last issue of Ireland of the Welcomes is running a feature DH and I did on the woollen industry in Cork and Kerry. (The magazine has been sold, so may well reappear, but this is the last from the old editorial team who have become good friends of ours over the years.) A lot of acquaintances familiar from the postings on this blog are in it - Andrew Eadie of Kerry Woollen Mills of course, Jo and Jean from Spin a Yarn in Kenmare, the Kissanes, sheep farmers of Moll's Gap, and of course Daniel P. Buckley the wool factor. If you happen to be passing the magazine racks in a large Borders or Barnes & Noble, have a glance at it. It's our tribute to those who continue this timeless process in increasingly difficult times.

Now - several people have inquired anxiously about the Little Sisters of the Wool and their vital missionary work in the benighted regions of Ireland (Denise, I know you in particular are waiting for an update, and quite right too). I am happy to report that the Missionary Project is progressing well. Here are some recent heartwarmers:

An elegantly-dressed lady in a large shopping centre, sitting at a nearby table while I had coffee and knitted socks. From her raised eyebrows and slight smile I anticipated a comment of the 'Oh I would never have time to do that' variety. Not so. She came over and said nervously, 'Excuse me, but I haven't seen anyone knitting in so long - it's lovely!' We fell into talk and she mentioned how difficult it was to find patterns these days. Oh, the rush of excitement! The thrill of knowing one stray lamb is so close to the door of the fold!

Are you on the Internet at home?

Of course - but what has that to do with knitting?
What has that to do with - ? Well - type in knitting pattern - or free knitting pattern if you like - and see what happens.
A puzzled stare, followed, so slowly, by dawning light.
You mean - I can find patterns on the Web?
Not only patterns. Yarn, needles, stitch markers, like-minded people...
I never saw such a change in anybody. She positively ran off, chattering that she couldn't wait to get home and log on immediately. Ah, the happiness of introducing one new soul to the delights of the Net (yes, of course I told her about Ravelry. She didn't understand it fully - did you understand what Ravelry could mean when you first heard about it? - but she knows the name, she has the bit between her teeth, and from now on it's upwards!)

Then there was the elderly lady behind me in a very slow queue at the supermarket. I had pulled out the socks and started knitting while the checkout girl wandered off to price some article or other, and this lady was unashamedly watching.

I used to make socks all the time when I was young. Made them for my father, for my brothers. And then I made them for my husband as well. Never saw a needle like that though.

I explained the principle of the circular and Magic Loop and she got it immediately. Then she told me she used to make gloves too.

I remember well making this pair for a friend for Christmas. I made the backs in bright green and the fronts in bright red, so she could change them round and have a different pair on different days! Made them flat, you see, and sewed them together afterwards. Oh they did look smart!

What a good idea. I told her so and she looked pleased. I might just take it up again now that I've seen you at it.

The girl who mans the reception area in the newspaper building is bored no longer since she was alerted to the plethora of crochet shawl patterns freely available on the Net. And a neighbour at the end of her tether with a crusty bedridden relative reported calm and quiet since I handed on some skeins of rough, tough, manly sock yarn, like they used to make it, none of this modern nonsense.

So the Little Sisters of the Wool are alive and well, and their missionary work prospering. They would love to hear of similar tales of happy success in other corners of the world too, just to reassure themselves that they are not alone.
Haven't been able to hang out the washing in the back garden for weeks because of the blackbird nesting in the trellis right by the back door.

It's that bundle of moss and twigs in the middle, with the door on the right of the picture. Every time we opened the door she would go into frantic hysterics and fly off, not returning for hours, so in the interests of preserving the young, we thought we'd better leave the door alone.

Could still have hung out the washing by going around the long way, but -

- a mistle thrush decided to start building in the very tree which supports the clothesline. Now it's late for a mistle thrush and we had thought they weren't returning this year, so we were very happy to see them. It's worth the inconvenience of hanging the washing indoors on ceiling airers. Today, the blackbird and her mate are frantically feeding the ravenous youngsters while the mistle thrush is sitting very quietly, keeping the as yet unhatched eggs warm.
But I do like to hang my handwashed handknits out in the fresh air to dry, so lately the front driveway has looked like the gate to a Tibetan temple with prayer socks fluttering in the breeze.

Can you make out three pairs here? Mad Cow Mk II on the left, Mad Dance in the centre, and -

Leafy Green Socks merging beautifully into their background.
It's rather nice to work with nature rather than against it when you can.